Study Guide

Psalms Destruction

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The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins;
their cities you have rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished. (NRSV 9:6)

O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them. (KJV 9:6)

If God has destroyed these enemies so much that we don't even remember them, is the psalm itself all that's left of them? Is the destruction of memory worse than the original destruction of the people? What are the Psalms writers doing to ensure that Israel's memory isn't forgotten?

On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. (NRSV 11:6)

Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and a horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. (KJV 11:6)

Here you go, Shmoopers—an original fire and brimstone passage. Why is there no mercy?

They cried for help, but there was no one to save them;
they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them. (NRSV 18:41)

They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. (KJV 18:41)

God is definitely selective about whom he listens to. Is this a loyalty thing, or a cruelty thing? Or both?

You will destroy their offspring from the earth,
and their children from among humankind. (NRSV 21:10)

Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men. (KJV 21:10)

Who will populate the earth in place of the enemies—the Israelites?

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;
like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
People will say, 'Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.' (NRSV 58:6-11)

Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth: break out the great teeth of the young lions, O Lord.
Let them melt away as waters which run continually: when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows, let them be as cut in pieces.
As a snail which melteth, let every one of them pass away: like the untimely birth of a woman, that they may not see the sun.
Before your pots can feel the thorns, he shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath.
The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
So that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous: verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth. (KJV 58:6-11)

Yowza. It seems like the righteous are rewarded by becoming the only people left on earth. Why is the language and imagery here so brutal?

Direct your steps to the perpetual ruins;
the enemy has destroyed everything in the sanctuary.
Your foes have roared within your holy place;
they set up their emblems there.
At the upper entrance they hacked
the wooden trellis with axes.
And then, with hatchets and hammers,
they smashed all its carved work.
They set your sanctuary on fire;
they desecrated the dwelling-place of your name,
bringing it to the ground.
They said to themselves, 'We will utterly subdue them';
they burned all the meeting-places of God in the land. (NRSV 74:3-8)

Lift up thy feet unto the perpetual desolations; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the sanctuary.
Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations; they set up their ensigns for signs.
A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.
But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers.
They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.
They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. (KJV 74:3-8)

Ah, how the tables have turned. Now it's the Israelites who suffer total destruction.

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